American women writers and the Brontës

Contributor/s : Elaine Showalter, Ion Trewin

One of the first essays that Virginia Woolf had published, in The Guardian when she was 22, was about a ‘pilgrimage’ to Haworth. She was writing 50 years after the death of the last of the Bront√´ sisters, Charlotte, but the ‘thrill’ of the bleak Yorkshire vicarage and the sisters’ small relics was vivid and powerful. Haworth had already become a place for pilgrimage not just for British admirers, but also for Americans, many of them writers. Elaine Showalter discusses the enormous impact of the Bront√´s – through Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, Villette and Mrs Gaskell’s Life of Charlotte Bront√´ – on American women’s writing in the 19th century: writers black and white, novelists and poets, from Emily Dickinson to Sarah Orne Jewett, who used the lives and novels of the Bront√´s as inspiration for American stories. A professor emerita at Princeton and former chair of the judges of the Man Booker International Prize, Elaine Showalter has just completed a new book, A Jury of Her Peers: American women writers from Anne Bradstreet to Annie Proulx, published by Virago Press in May. Her previous books include A Literature of Their Own: British women novelists from Bront√´ to Lessing.

Recorded on Monday 15 June 2009.

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